- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000

Bill Clinton wants the rule of law applied to whether Elian Gonzalez stays in America, where he can grow up as a free man, or is returned to Fidel Castro's Cuba, where he will grow up to be a cipher in the endless scheme of Marxist misery.
The president, for once, is right. The rule of law should be supreme. That's what America is all about. To do that, though, Mr. Clinton must tell the Immigration and Naturalization Service to butt out.
What the INS wants to do, with its usual Washington talent for bureaucratic bungling, is to apply not the rule of law, but the rule of regulation. The rule of law is meant to be applied by the courts, not the regulatory agencies, and as usual the feds have got it backwards.
Both Mr. Clinton and Gregory Craig, the expensive American lawyer for Elian's father, insist that he is a fit parent and Cuba is where the boy belongs. Maybe, as painful as it would be to send the boy back to the garbage can that Fidel has made of Cuba, they're right. Lawyers for the boy's Miami relatives suggest there's evidence that the father is not fit. Maybe they're right. We don't know yet. That's what Florida's Family Courts are for, to decide who's fit and what's best for the child.
The INS doesn't necessarily care what happens to Elian, but wants to protect what it imagines its bureaucratic prerogatives to be. "Our goal is to reunite Elian and his father," says Maria Cardona, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and adds, with breathtaking arrogance: "Suffice it to say, the issue is not whether we will transfer Elian to his father, but when and how." If suitably armed, perhaps with grenade launchers and shoulder-fired missiles, a flying squadron of INS agents would be a match for a 6-year-old boy.
There were hints in Miami last night that if Elian's father shows up there, perhaps as early as today, the INS will turn over the boy and help the Cubans pack him back to Cuba, and the courts be damned. This will mock the authority of the state and federal courts, but the INS bureaucrats and Janet Reno, who demonstrated at Waco that sometimes you have to kill children to save them, will have protected their bureaucratic turf.
Fidel said in Havana that Elian's father is "willing" to travel alone to the United States today there are enough resident police goons in the Cuban Special Interests Section to make him behave if Mr. Clinton's government will obey his condition that the boy be turned over to the father for immediate return to Cuba.
The usual suspects in this sordid drama are saying the usual sordid things, the lawyers being the most incendiary. But now we've got a poll. When pollsters speak, politicians listen.
Six of 10 Americans polled by The Washington Post-ABC News say the boy should be returned to his father, 3 of 10 say he should stay in the United States, 2 of 10 have not made up their minds, 7 of 10 say he should return to Disney World in Orlando, and of those, 3 of 10 say he should not be allowed to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl more than twice. (I made up some of this, but the made-up stuff is just as relevant as the rest of it.)
The confusion ranges across the ideological charts. Says Rep. Steve Largent of Oklahoma, a conservative Republican who usually shows good judgment: "If my little boy … was lost," Mr. Largent reasons, "what position does a court have to come in and start evaluating whether I'm a fit father or not?" But who's "lost"?
Besides, some of us have had a higher opinion of Oklahoma than that. We thought Rooster Cogburn and Judge Parker had cleaned up the Indian Territory. True Grit, and all that. But if Mr. Largent's hypothetical little boy were being subjected to the kind of life that Elian Gonzalez left behind in Cuba, and Mrs. Largent fled with him across the border to freedom and a better life in Arkansas, yes, we would hope that a court of competent jurisdiction would prevent his return to the Oklahoma badlands.
Elian's life will be very different in Cuba, where, under Clause C of Article 38 of the Cuban constitution of 1976, grade-school children must be indoctrinated in the Communist catechism. Alas, I am not making this up. Teachers are required to keep a file of ideologically suspect children Elian is sure to be a very special case and they are closely interrogated about the "ideological integration" of their parents. At age 10, Elian will be required to attend an indoctrination camp, and study a demolition pamphlet written for Pioneers, the Hitler Youth-like organization Elian was required to join even before his mother gave her life to get him out of Cuba. Elian and his classmates must learn how to blow up bridges, lay mines, murder sentries, and throw grenades. Would any court say this is "best" for Elian?

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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